Twin Cedars putting focus on mental health

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Twin Cedars High School Principal Dave Roby says the district will take a proactive approach to dealing with mental health issues that may arise with his students.

Teachers spent an entire day, hosted by Marion County Public Health, training how to spot signs of emotional distress in their students. As stressful as school can be, issues often come to the classroom with the students.

With such small school enrollment, Roby is able to get to know the student body. He has a longstanding practice of calling them in if he notices a change in their moods.

“It’s important for kids to know the door is always open,” Roby said. “Some rarely talk, others come in every day.”

One of the teachers Roby plans to lean on is Marty Duffy. Duffy is teaching all of the social studies courses at TCHS and is a Twin Cedars alumnus. He sees nearly all of the 88 students in TCHS every day.

“I really appreciate teachers like Mr. Duffy, who take the extra time,” Roby said.

Duffy has vast experience in education and business. He has traveled and worked all across the country. Students have felt some comfortable with him that he once received a call on his cell phone while he was in New York City. He continues to serve on the Knoxville Board of Education.

One of the most significant causes of mental health issues for students is trauma. Duffy said one key is to stop asking what is wrong with a student, but instead asking the student what happened to him/her. This takes away some of the stigma associated with students opening up.

This is a nationwide crises, but Duffy and his fellow educators feel safe at Twin Cedars. Duffy gives the credit for that to Roby, who works diligently to secure the building for staff and students. The work the staff puts into caring for the students also helps.

“Everybody needs something and needs to understand we are here to help and be helped,” Duffy said.

Things to watch for include body language, behavior and talking to a students’ friends. All of these can help educators discover an issue with a student.

“It goes back to knowing your kids,” Roby said. “You can tell when something is not right.”

“I make initial assessment as soon as they walk in the room,” Duffy said. He asks how they are doing and gets an honest answer. “In a smaller school like this, you can do that.”

Emotional struggles should not be much different than those specifically tied to academics. For instance, if a student is struggling with reading, the staff works with him or her.

For Duffy, the bedrock of education should be strong relationships between teachers and students, making each student a well-rounded person. The issue today is that the State of Iowa puts a stronger emphasis on numbers and economies of scale.

“Students can do more here,” Duffy said. “Smaller numbers provide more opportunity.”